Prepare for a massive shift in housing standards over the coming decade. That’s what I see when I read the latest UK population estimates released today.
In fairness this story line is much the same as when the 2008-based estimates were released, except these figures show a bigger population growth (at 67.2 million in 2020 that’s an extra 700,000) and we now expect far fewer homes to be built over the coming decade than we might have hoped for a couple of years ago.
So we appear to have moved from bad to worse over the past two years.
On the basis of these latest figures, this decade is set to become the first for more than a century when the average number of people living in a home rises.
Now the past decade felt pretty uncomfortable for many on the housing front when it became the first decade since WWII when there were fewer homes built in the UK than there were extra people added to the UK population.
Between 1971 and 2000 the population rose by about 100,000 a year on average. But we built more than 200,000 homes a year. No wonder our aspirations regarding homes and home ownership and second home ownership rose.
But in the years 2001 to 2010 we built fewer than 200,000 homes a year on average when the population was rising at more than 300,000 a year. But even so homes became less crowded on average.
Now, in this coming decade if the population estimates prove in any way accurate, we will see the percentage increase in the population outstrip the percentage increase in the housing stock and by some margin.
That means a big change, as we will have to squeeze more people on average into each home. And that reverses a trend set more than a century ago of ever decreasing household sizes.
Since 1900 the population of Great Britain has increased by just over a half, compared with an increase in the housing stock of almost three and a half times. That reduced the average number of people living in a home from about 4.8 to 2.3.
On the basis of these latest figures, just to keep the average ratio of 2.3 people per home steady the stock of homes in the UK would need to rise by more than 2 million between 2010 and 2020.
On current rates of increase to the stock that looks exceptionally unlikely.
Naturally these are just crude averages and demographic and social changes impact on how households form and on how people want to live. Sadly if we explore those implications things probably look even worse.
To cope with the increasing numbers or older settled folk or younger more affluent types who choose to and can afford to live on their own, or even in couples, this will place even more pressure on those who currently struggle to find a decent home to house their families.
Without doubt in housing terms we are as a nation at a turning point.